| Around the HKGA

As Jonathan Wal­lett ex­plains, the most com­mon mis­take amongst elite play­ers to­day is still overly ded­i­cated to prac­tis­ing. But it does not mean the prac­tice is for noth­ing. The crit­i­cal point is how you prac­tice and un­der what con­di­tions.

HK Golfer - - Contents - By Jonathan Wal­lett

The most com­mon mis­take amongst elite play­ers to­day is still overly ded­i­cated to prac­tic­ing.

‘Prac­tice till your hands bleed’ is the ad­vice of­ten given to young play­ers who as­pire to a ca­reer in pro­fes­sional golf. ‘Re­peat, re­peat and re­peat, so you play like a ma­chine and mis­take-free’ is an­other mantra preached by some par­ents and coaches. One of the mis­takes I made to tran­sit from England School­boy In­ter­na­tional player to Euro­pean Tour 30 years ago, was look­ing to build a ma­chine-like swing and then look­ing to burn this in through prac­tice from dawn to dusk. Ded­i­ca­tion, dis­ci­pline and sac­ri­fice are what ev­ery­one said – this is still the most com­mon mis­take I see amongst elite play­ers to­day.

Let’s un­der­stand the emo­tional or psy­cho­log­i­cal as­pect of hit­ting the ball on the range and then hit­ting a shot on the course in tour­na­ments are poles apart.

If you hit a poor shot on the range, you just take an­other ball and look to cor­rect the swing in the next shot. On the course, first of all, you have the phys­i­cal challenge the golf ar­chi­tect of that course set – per­haps wa­ter down the left, trees on the right, a fair­way bunker, etc. But then you have the men­tal challenge – you want to do well, you are cur­rently on a cer­tain score, what other play­ers are do­ing, etc. It’s very ev­i­dent that these two sce­nar­ios bear lit­tle re­la­tion to each other, and that’s why burn­ing it in on the range has in­suf­fi­cient value.

So, does that mean the prac­tice is for noth­ing? Ab­so­lutely not. Prac­tice is where you can de­velop your skills, but the crit­i­cal point is how you prac­tice and un­der what con­di­tions. I had a con­ver­sa­tion 17 years ago with Michael Camp­bell, who went on to win the 2005 U.S. Open, re­vealed a con­cept which he was taught as a former mem­ber of the 1992 New Zealand Eisen­hower Cup winning team - the ‘1/3 rule’. In essence, it means di­vid­ing your prac­tice into thirds whereby the first third you focus on

pro­gress­ing your tech­nique, the sec­ond third you focus on rhythm and mo­tion and the fi­nal third you sim­u­late com­pe­ti­tion.

So, for in­stance, if Michael was do­ing a 60-minute-long game ses­sion he may di­vide it into:

FIRST 1/3: 20 min­utes work­ing on his swing tech­nique, us­ing key drills set for him by his coach. In this 1/3 its fine to hit to just one tar­get with one club, and us­ing aids such as an align­ment aid.

SEC­OND 1/3: Fo­cus­ing on rhythm and mo­tion, and in this third, no tech­ni­cal thoughts are al­lowed. The rule is that ev­ery shot must be dif­fer­ent – so may use the same club for five shots, but then aim at five dif­fer­ent tar­gets. Or do Steve Banns’ 9 shot shape drill to hit all the nine ball flights with nine balls. It can also mean chang­ing club ev­ery shot. The essence is about chang­ing shots and fo­cus­ing on the mo­tion as op­posed to the tech­nique.

FI­NAL 1/3: Sim­u­lat­ing com­pe­ti­tion Put your­self un­der pres­sure by in­tro­duc­ing a ‘win-lose’ el­e­ment. This last sec­tion cre­ates a bridge from your prac­tice to your play as it helps you trans­fer your range work to hit­ting good shots down the stretch. Ex­ten­sive test­ing has shown that prac­tis­ing in pres­surised sit­u­a­tions is the most ef­fi­cient way of in­oc­u­lat­ing your­self against the neg­a­tive ef­fects of pres­sure. Use your pre-shot rou­tine just as you would on the course and have a spe­cific prac­tice drill that sim­u­lated com­pe­ti­tion.

It’s im­por­tant to apply it whether you’re prac­tis­ing your long game, short game or putting. So, for in­stance, a 45-minute putting ses­sion may look like this:

- 15 mins on tech­nique – you may use train­ing aids such as a putting rail to work on stroke di­rec­tion, or a laser for face aim, etc. You may just prac­tice the same putt – so a 2 or 3m straight putt for 15 min­utes dur­ing this pe­riod.

- For the next 15 min­utes, put the train­ing ap­pa­ra­tus away and to prac­tice rhythm and mo­tion. Per­haps some putting with your eyes closed to gain feel, or dis­tance con­trol and feel­ing drills such as the clus­ter drill. Prac­tice dif­fer­ent length and break­ing putts as well.

- The fi­nal 15 min­utes - Set up a com­pet­i­tive drill with win-lose. Us­ing full pre-shot rou­tine and per­haps it can be a dis­tance con­trol test or a hol­ing out the test. One drill I like to use is that play­ers need to get the ball into the zone (up to a put­ter length be­hind the hole) with five con­sec­u­tive putts. Each putt will be a dif­fer­ent length, from a dif­fer­ent po­si­tion so that it tests green read­ing skills as well. I like the idea of ‘con­sec­u­tive’ putts as this builds pres­sure on balls 3, 4 and 5. I may give a player a max­i­mum of 5 ‘lives’ so that they can restart the drill a max­i­mum of 5 times.

What I have found in ap­ply­ing the con­cept for over 15 years is that it as­sists play­ers to build what I call com­pet­i­tive con­fi­dence – con­fi­dence un­der pres­sure. Be­cause they’ve been tested and chal­lenged dur­ing prac­tice, they then are bet­ter pre­pared to per­form when they face challenge and pres­sure dur­ing com­pe­ti­tion.

You will be able to build con­fi­dence that you can hit the key shot un­der pres­sure – be­cause that’s what tour­na­ment golf is about – be­ing able to ex­e­cute the key shot at the crit­i­cal time. This sum­mer, Jor­dan Spi­eth won the big­gest tour­na­ment in golf – the Bri­tish Open. He had the best four days of his en­tire ca­reer which has al­ready been star-stud­ded. He hit less than 50% of the fair­ways in this tour­na­ment – his game was far from ma­chine-like – but he pos­sessed com­pet­i­tive con­fi­dence and skill, which en­abled him to get the ball in the hole over 72 holes in fewer strokes than any of the other 156 com­peti­tors – which is the essence of Tour­na­ment Golf.

In­ter­ested to know how you can build com­pet­i­tive con­fi­dence and skill in your prac­tice? Here’s a plat­form of videos pri­mar­ily for the HK squads, but ev­ery golfer in HK can view and ac­cess:

‘Re­peat, re­peat and re­peat, so you play like a ma­chine and mis­take-free’, a mantra still preached by some par­ents and coaches

Michael Camp­bell of New Zealand, the 2005 U.S. Open cham­pion, is also firm be­liever of “1/3 rule”

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